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One of the biggest concerns for managing our accounts abroad was the additional fees that we could be charged from our bank and credit card companies for making purchases. When you’re living off your savings for a year, these charges can really add up.

A few people had recommended Capital One to us because they do not charge foreign transaction fees.  We now have an appropriately named Venture card. (It’s been driving Nellu crazy that I insist we use our card for making small purchases anywhere they accept Visa. But those points – double points – will add up!)

Here’s a helpful Wall Street Journal article that my dad sent over:

WSJ: C’est la Fee: New Hassles for Travelers

For our bank account, we got a TD account through our sister-in-law Jaime, who works there. (She’s really awesome. And it was really pleasant experience. We even got our ATM cards on the spot.) We won’t get socked with any ATM fees if we maintain a certain balance.

Here’s a wiki that helped our decision making:

http://flyerguide.com/wiki/index.php/Credit/Debit/ATM_Cards_and_Foreign_Exchange

So after all that it was surprisingly annoying when we still got dinged for few foreign transaction fees for purchases we made while in the United States on our Citi AAdvantage card – nearly $50 worth. Apparently the group we had booked our Inca Trail adventure through is based in the UK and I downloaded software from a firm in Vancouver. Doh!

~ Molly

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When Nellu and I started to plan out this trip, we talked about staying in places for a few weeks. We wanted to know what it would feel like to live in the places we visited. I think what neither of us expected to find was a home.

But we found that in Rio at the Casa Cool Beans with Lance, David and Mousse (their wonderful dog).

This was the first place we stayed for more than a few days. But it wasn’t the length of time that made it a home. It was the people. Our hosts were always ready to give an insiders tip, rescue us from a laundry crisis or just share a piece of their story with us. Lance even seemed to get Nellu’s sense of humor right off the bat. For those of you who know my husband, you can understand how shocked I was. (We’ve been together for more than a decade and I still don’t completely get him.)

Tree of Life - Street Art at Casa Cool Bean (Photo by Nellu)

I was able to interview Lance about starting a business in Brazil. I hope to have that interview compiled in the next week or so and will post it soon. I’ll also put together some of the footage I shot from around the guesthouse for the first video post on randombutbeautiful.com.

Thanks Lance, David & Mousse! We miss you.

~ Molly

It was really sad to leave Rio and the friends we had made at Casa Cool Beans, especially in light of the pending two bus trips (the longest we have ever made, while also traveling in 2 foreign countries). We were confident enough in our abilities having secured tickets at the Rodoviario (bus station) on the sketchy part of town earlier in the week and having survived 3 weeks in Brazil, that we thought this would be just two ordinary days. Big mistake!

Moussey! (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The trouble started on our final night in Rio, when we hung out in Lapa with our new friends from Cork, Patrick and Nicola, till the sun came up. Hunter Thompson said it correctly; “No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…”

Lance & I (photo by Molly)

Lack of sleep & with a hangover, we somehow managed to pack, eat breakfast, say goodbye to our new friends and cab it to the Rodoviario without incident. Though we arrived with plenty of time and planned on securing our final sucos de acai, we were unable to find a vendor. This should have been a warning to us, but we were enchanted by the bus driver named “Washington” who took the time to come all the way to our seats and repeat his message to us in English. He emphasized that there would be a three-driver-shift and we would stop for “lunch” at 17:00.

The trip was uneventful as we stopped several times along the way to pick up more people. “Lunch” was around 17:00 as initially announced at a very modern, self-service buffet-restaurant with a very good selection of fresh food, beverages and pre-packaged goods. We were the last people on the bus, but the drivers waited for us.

Beer with dessert (photo by Jack Zalium)

Further down the road, we encountered the most interesting event of the entire trip. First a few, white clad men and women on horseback with matching gaucho/cowboy hats passed our bus window & then more and more until we came upon this :

Easter festival (Photo by Jack Zalium)

We can only assume it was an Easter festivity, but it looked vibrant and exciting. Sadly the bus did not stop, as expected. The next 15 hours comprised of more stops and drop-offs, about half-a-dozen mini-naps and included a “dinner” stop at 2 in the morning . Why? I don’t know. 90% of the bus was already asleep, why wake us up?  Perhaps it was to fix the growing situation coming out of the bathroom. I am sure the smell of urine could be sensed by the driver all the way up front, behind his separate door, because he went in there to drop a “cake”.

Around noon the next day (23 hours after our departure), we both start getting antsy. We had limited time at Iguazu Falls and needed to get on at least 3 different buses just to get to the falls itself and that didn’t count crossing the border into Argentina and catching yet another bus (for 18 hours) to Buenos Aires. We were quite familiar with the Brazilian sense of time, however, we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to our destination or had any idea how far away we were (highway signs seemed to be devoid of distances).

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. One of the remaining handful of passengers remaining, a little old lady I had inadvertently walked in while in the bathroom earlier because the door didn’t close properly, left us all a “treat” right before her stop. Since I have never been much on subtly, she dropped the smelliest deuce that would have put Kansas animal manure to shame. I’m not sure of her medical condition or what horrible thing she ate, but the smell lingered for the remaining three hours of our trip.  I eventually adventured into the bathroom for an unwanted, but quite necessary break and discovered the problem: The waste had not flushed and would not flush. 6 long, blue flushes later and it had not moved 1 centimeter.

We finally arrive at our destination, 2.5 hours later than planned and even though we gave ourselves a large enough buffer, I had already resolved that we would not get a chance to see the falls. Molly was still somewhat optimistic and would need more convincing. It came in the form of Tom, an Israeli woman (of Romanian ancestry) that asked us questions about the bus to the Argentinian border in Spanish and pleasantly discovered we spoke English. She told us that it would take approximately 45 minutes to get to the falls and 45 minutes back, plus that the park would close at 18:00. I could see the hope in Molly’s eyes dwindle and we resolved to cross the border and make it to our final bus ride.

Yet another delay at the border, where one bus drops you off to go through customs on the Brazilian side, only to have to wait for another bus to take us to the border and then get off again to go through the Argentinian side.  Argentinian customs only asked me if it was my first time there and let me pass while asking Molly several questions. I then got detained through the baggage screening, when one of the officers asked me to open my camera bag and asked about the equipment.  He must have thought my accent was curious because he asked if I was Italian. When I mentioned I was Romanian, he cleverly said “Bucuresti”, “Dracula… Jack Tepes” and then turned jokingly to the female baggage screeners and said “Transylvania”. I smiled, laughed and said ‘Si’. We were through the border and thankfully we were back on the same bus with Tom, all the way to the same bus station, where she shared pictures and stories of Iguazu Falls.

A short time later we separated from Tam, whom we hope made it to her bus, and got our first real meal in more than 24 hours at a restaurant called Color, near the bus station. It was good, though we picked up at least another dozen mosquito bites each for our troubles. We went back to our bus, where we were eagerly anticipating the full-160 degree reclining seats, movie, food, booze and much needed sleep. Look at the joy in my eyes when I initially sat down :

The look of happiness. (Photo by Molly)

Who would have guess what the next few hours would bring….

About 2-3 hours into our last bus ride for a while, trouble started brewing. The 160 degree reclining seats were actually worse for me than the seats in the Pluma bus to Foz de Iguacu. In the Pluma bus, I was able to shove my feet under the next person’s seat, thus full extending. This seat put me in a perpetual squatting position; now just imagine holding a squat for 18 hours. To make matters worse, the bus drivers were having the grandest of time and we could hear this perpetual and recurring cackling from the bus cabin. No one around us seemed to have heard of vibrate mode on their phones, several babies were crying, a snorer was right behind us and the Brazilian cleanliness had disappeared, replaced by a more European approach, sans deodorant. I could see Molly become increasingly more agitated and cagey, especially when at one point she went down in the dark and “shushed” the drivers. This did not help any and I slowly started to think this might end with us on the side of the road somewhere in Argentina in the dark with no idea where we were.

Thankfully, after dinner and a nap, I awoke in the middle of the night to find that the bus was quiet and Molly was sleeping. Two checkpoints, breakfast, some bad parenting (an infant actually fell head first out of his seat while his ‘mother’ put something in the overhead), two viewings of  ‘Creation‘, a broken toilet and twelve hours later we were in Buenos Aires.  Deliverance is grand as we now spend the next two weeks here (civilization with a bidet) :

Cabrera House window view (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Stay tuned for more.